Anti-Madhabism: A Bridge to Religious Freedom, By Imam Muhammad Zahid Al-Kawthari

Translated By: Dr. Sadi Kosi
Compiled By: Mufti Umar Badakhshani

School of Fools not of philosophy

You will not find anyone among the politicians, irrespective of his political affiliations who has earned the respect of the people without a declared goal that he strives toward with sincerity. Nor can you find a politician worth the name trying to deceive everyone by speaking according to the audience and the ambiance. No different is the situation of a characterless opportunist who is with no one but pretends to be with everyone. As the poet says:

When he meets a Yemeni he is Yemeni, When he meets a Maadi so he is Adnani

Whosoever vacillates between different schools of thought (madhabs) in Islam and follows the way of anti-madhabism is worse and more abased than any of the aforementioned cases.

Each branch of knowledge can have multiple schools of thought such that in a given branch the specialists can have differences of opinion. He who claims to be a philosopher without belonging to any particular school should in fact be considered foolish and thus can only belong to the school of fools not of philosophy. Those who are considered to be founders of a given branch of science and who have documented their views have their own ways and principles. Take for example the study of the Arabic language. There are principle sources for this science, that he who would like to sip from their fresh spring, cannot be unaware of nor can he be blamed for having clinged to them.

Fiqh: the time of the Prophet & the Companions

From the dawn of Islam until our day there is not a single branch of knowledge among the [Islamic] sciences that has gotten as much attention from the scholars as did the science of jurisprudence (fiqh). Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) used to teach his companions jurisprudence and train them to derive rulings from the sacred texts until six companions (1) were able to issue verdicts (fatawa) during the Prophet’s (PBUH) lifetime. After the passing of the Prophet (PBUH), his companions used to learn jurisprudence from these six scholars. They had students not only among the companions but also among the followers (tabeen) who had reached a level such that they were licensed to issue verdicts.

Compilation of Fiqh & Medina

Fiqh: Time of the Tabeen after the companions

Medina was the cradle of Revelation and the dwelling place of the majority of the companions until the end of the reign of the third rightly guided Caliph [Uthman RA]. Many of the inhabitants of Madinah [took advantage of the presence of the great number of companions and] collected many of the prophetic traditions (hadith) or verdicts from the companions until seven [famous] jurists [among the Tabeen] of Madinah gained worldwide fame in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). [The Tabee] Saeed Bin Musayyab was so famous for his vast knowledge of the verdicts of the companions that even the great scholar Ibn Omar (RA), would query Ibn Musayyab about the verdicts of his own father Omar (RA).

The knowledge of the aforementioned scholars was then transferred to the teachers of Imam Malik in Medina. Imam Malik collected this knowledge and started spreading it. The foundation of both the school of scholars of medina and its branches is attributed to Imam Malik. Many great scholars who came after him chose to follow his wise approach due to the strength of his proofs. Because of their own expertise and cleverness, if the great followers of the Imam had wanted to establish another school, they would have been able to do so and many people would have followed them. However, they humbly preferred to be the followers of the scholar of Medinah and keep the ummah united. They knew that in some cases weak verdicts were attributed to the Imam of the madhhab and so they had qualified scholars within the madhab research and replace the weak verdicts with up to date and well-grounded verdicts [as new hadith compilations became available]. Eventually, all the weak views were replaced with verdicts that were so well-founded, that any latecomers who attempted to poke holes in the school of Imam Malik would only embarrass themselves.

Kufa: Center of Companions & Jurists Scholars (Fuqaha)

Such was the structure of the school of Imam Malik and the rest of the madhabs which have an active following to this day. Take for example the city of Kufa [where the Hanafi School started]. The eloquent among the Arabs began settling in Kufa after it was established by Omar (RA). Ibn Masoud (RA) was appointed to educate the residents of Kufa [About Islam] and Omar (RA) is reported to have said to them: “I preferred you over myself by sending Abdullah to teach you”. Abdullah bin Masoud was among the most well educated of the companions. Omar (RA) used to say, “He is full of knowledge.” The Prophet (PBUH) regarding Ibn Masoud said, “Whatever Ibn Masoud chooses for my nation, I am well pleased with it.” He (PBUH) also said “Whoever wants to read Quran as it was revealed let him read it according the recitation of Ibn Masoud (2).” Ibn Masoud (RA) worked so hard from the time of Omar (RA) all the way to the end of the reign of Uthman (RA) teaching the residents of Kufa jurisprudence (fiqh) that Kufa became full of jurists. When ‘Ali Bin Abi Talib (May Allah make his face noble) moved the capital of the Caliphate to Kufa, he was very pleased with the abundance of jurists there and said “May Allah have mercy on Ibn Masoud, he filled this city with knowledge.”

The door of the city of knowledge (3) that is ‘Ali (may Allah make his face noble), took it upon himself to continue from where Ibn Masoud left off such that no other city in the Muslim World could compete with Kufa in terms of the number of jurists, Hadith scholars, linguists, and people who focused on Islamic sciences. This happened after ‘Ali (may Allah make his face noble) moved the capital of the caliphate to Kufa which drew many of the most well-educated people there. Al Ijli mentioned that 1500 companions settled there. This is in addition to those companions who would travel from place to place in Iraq to spread knowledge. If one writes a book about the students and close companions of ‘Ali and Ibn Masoud, it would be a huge volume and this current work is not a place where we should list their names.

Imam Abu Hanifah

Ibrahim bin Yazid Al Nakhai collected the knowledge of the most learned students of these two great companions (‘Ali and Ibn Masoud RA) and passed it on until it was eventually recorded among the hadith collections of Abu Yusuf and Muhammed ibn Al-Hasan, Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shayba, and others. The hadith critics consider Al Nakhai’s loose hadeeth (4) authentic. Ibn Omar (RA) used to say, when he saw Al Shabi talk about the expeditions of the Prophet (PBUH) that ”He knows more than I, even though I was with The Prophet during the expeditions.” A scholar of such caliber [Al Shabi] used to prefer Al Nakhai over all the other scholars. Anas bin Sireen said, “I entered Kufa and there were 4000 people studying hadith and 400 studying jurisprudence.” This is narrated by Al-Ramahurmuzi in his book “Al-Faasil”.

As was recorded by Al-Tahawi and others, Abu Hanifa gathered forty of his most learned students who specialized in jurisprudence, Quranic sciences, Prophetic tradition and Arabic grammar and after scrutinizing the verdicts of the scholars of Kufa, recorded their knowledge. Muhammed bin Ishaq Al-Nadeem, who is not a follower of Abu Hanifa’s school, said, “Wherever there is [Islamic] knowledge, it is of what Abu Hanifa has gathered.” Imaam Al-Shafii said, “Whoever studies jurisprudence is indebted to Abu Hanifa.”

Imam Shafii

After Abu Hanifa, came Imaam Al-Shafii (may Allah be pleased with him). Al-Shafii gathered knowledge from the students of the companions and added to it what he learned from his teachers in Mecca (5).[The knowledge of Imaam Al-Shafi spread quickly such that] the East and the West became filled with his students and also the students of his students who went on to fill the world with knowledge. Egyptians are some of the most familiar people with Imaam Al-Shafii as he settled there towards the end of his life and established his new school before he passed away there (may Allah have mercy on him). There are many other jurists but this is not the occasion where one can list the virtues of all who have contributed to the development of Islamic jurisprudence. All the [independent jurists] agree on two thirds of issues. On the one third where they differ, the approach they have taken and the evidences they have used have been recorded in authentic books in each school of thought (madhhab).

 This is how the schools of thought have been established on strong foundations. If you come across, at the end of time, these obtuse, cocky, anti-madhab individuals who don’t belong to any school of thought, who claim to be scholars without any ground to stand upon except their own burning desire to attain fame and notoriety, and who call for the abolishment of madhabs and want to replace with them with their own ignorant verdicts (ijtihad), as a follower of a madhab you will be hard-pressed to make any sense of any of this. Are they insane and should they be sent to an asylum? It will be difficult to decide if they are the insane ones among the intellectuals or the intelligent ones among the insane individuals?

The slogan of La Madhabism (un religion) is Narrow-mindedness

In recent times we are hearing calls of this nature from some people. Before we respond to their claim that there is a need to do ijtihad that will do away with the madhabs, we need to have them checked by psychiatrists to make sure that they are sane. Assuming that they are somewhat sane, they must be part of the plot of the enemies of this monotheistic religion. Among the aim of the plot is to divide the Muslims both in religious and in worldly matters. A division that will lead to quarrels, dispute, and hatred day after day when Muslims have been gathered under the unifying umbrella of brotherhood since the dawn of Islam until this day.

The acute Muslim doesn’t allow himself to be deceived by such a [devilish] call [to abolish madhabs and] to abandon the scholars (aimmah al-deen) who preserved and transmitted the science of Islamic Creed (usool al-deen) and applied law or jurisprudence (furoo al-deen) from the time of followers (tabeen) until now as they inherited it from The Prophet (PBUH) and his companions (may Allah be pleased with them all.) When a Muslim hears a defamation of the schools of thought (madhahib ahl al-haq), he must search for the source of the mischief and unveil it. This call [to abandon Madhabs] cannot come from a genuine Muslim [scholar] who has anything approaching profound knowledge of the Islamic sciences. Rather, such a call can only come from a so-called scholar who shopped from different scholars [for a short time while only scratching the surface] such that [he becomes qualified] not as a Muslim scholar, but [qualified] to work for the enemies of Islam [so that he can pretend to be a scholar to misguide the naive Muslims.] When an acute Muslim spots such an individual, he will find that this so-called scholar shares nothing with Muslims in terms of their hopes nor worries except as theatrics. He will find this charlatan befriending the very people that Muslims shun. He will find the so-called scholar declaring a war against everything in our heritage as archaic except for that which is imported from the West where the sun of virtue sets. Such individuals commit these (heinous) acts in order to get approval from their puppet masters [among the enemies of Islam.] When an acute Muslim spots such an individual spreading mischief among us he should alert the authorities so that we can be saved from the mischief maker’s evil doings. The truth is above everything.

Those who call people to stop following the independent jurists could consider all the verdicts of all jurists to be correct such that no ordinary Muslim could follow any of the independent jurists in any given issue without necessarily sticking to the views of one of the imams. This is the view of the Mutazila. As for [some of] the Sufis, they effectively consider all the verdicts of the imams correct in that they like to follow the strictest verdicts from among the verdicts of the imams instead of sticking with one imam. This is what was pointed out by Abu Al Alaa Saeed bin Ahmad bin Abi Bakr Al Raazi in his book “Combining Piety and Legal Verdicts Both in Spiritual and Worldly Matters” when he mentions in the chapter of jurisprudence what necessitates legal verdicts and what necessitates piety among the sayings of the four Imams. He stated that what is done by Sufis is not following one’s desire rather it is piety itself.

Pick and Choose!

According to the view attributed to the Mutazila, ordinary people are allowed to pick and choose among the verdicts of the imams. However, the least an ordinary Muslim can do is choose an independent jurist (such as the four imams) whom he thinks is most knowledgeable and pious and then abide by the jurist’s verdicts regarding all issues without seeking verdicts of various imams which suit his desire. As for haphazardly seeking out verdicts from various imams because they are more pleasing to us, this has no place in Islam no matter who issues a verdict claiming otherwise.

Regarding the claim that all of the verdicts of the Imams are absolute truth, Al Ustadh Al Imam Abu Ishaaq Al Isfarayiini says, “This starts out as nonsense and may end up as irreligion.” In a given issue one Imam may permit it and others may prohibit it. How can both be right? He who follows all the verdicts [found in a school] of an Imam is not responsible for whether his Imam made a mistake or not. This is because if a judge issues a verdict and he gets it right, he earns two rewards. If he gets it wrong he earns one reward. There are quite a few hadeeth regarding this matter.

From the early days of Islam until now there is a consensus [among the scholars] in the Muslim nation that one who imitates an Imam is not held culpable if his Imam makes a mistake [provided that he does his best in choosing a qualified Imam like one of the four Imams]. Had the Imams been liable in making a mistake while issuing a verdict they wouldn’t have been given a reward. We do not need to say more as al Ustadh Abu Ishaaq Al Isfarayiini has declared the truth [above] and one is able to bring a thousand and one proofs but this is not a place for it.

If the one who is calling people away from madhabs believes that the madhhabs are the reason for the sects and conflicts in the Muslim nation and that the Imams, all of them, were wrong until now and that he alone is able to correct their mistakes and bring out the truth that was hidden from the Muslims for fourteen centuries- then this is foolishness and recklessness of the highest order.

We hear about the anti-madhabists’ attacks on the authentic unitary narrations (hadith aahad) from the Sunnah, legal analogy, consensus of scholars, and widely accepted rulings derived from the sacred texts by the people of ijtihad. By attacking unitary narrations they denounce the books of hadeeth including the authentics, the sunnan, the collections (jawami), the musannafat (6), the masaneed (7) and the narrated Quranic commentaries and others. This means no verdicts can be derived from these sources nor any other benefit can be drawn. Who takes this way of the devil other than the instruments of the enemies of Islam?

It must be pointed out that if a given unitary narration is narrated by multiple chains it can reach the level of unanimously agreed upon narration (mutawatir) by meaning. In addition, if there is external evidence (muttahaf bil qarain) supporting a unitary narration it must be taken into account. Some specialists consider the hadeeth found in the two authentics (bukhari & muslim) to have external evidence supporting them with some exceptions.

By discarding the classical unanimous acceptance of the consensus of scholars (ijma) they are eradicating (our great history) and inclining towards the misguided Khawaarij or Rawaafid. By refusing to observe legal analogy they close the door of issuing (modern) legal independent verdicts (ijtihad) and incline to the way of Khawaarij, Rawaafid, and Mutezila who do not accept legal analogy [as one of the sources of Islamic law].

The neglectful role of Azhar University

 All of this is conspicuously taking place under the nose of Al-Azhar University and its scholars remain silent. Being mute in the face of such disgraceful behavior is not befitting of Al Azhar, which was built upon a foundation of piety (taqwa). During the reign of the King Zahir Al-Baybars and his benevolent princes, he and his princes made Al-Azhar a citadel of learning for orthodox Islam after they rejuvenated it. Since then all of the Muslim rulers have taken great care of this institution as did the founder until now (ca. 1940). Its doors are still closed to those other than the followers of the four schools of thought. These rulers have spared no expense or effort for this noble cause. The king Fuad the first, may Allah have mercy on him, had a big role in keeping Azhar on its unshakable foundation of piety. Similarly the [current] government which adheres to the principles Islam continues to be benevolent to Azhar [in order that Azhar continue to march on the straight path].

The Ultimate Goal of Anti-Madhabism

If the callers of Anti-Madhhabism succeed in limiting the issuance of independent legal verdicts (ijtihad) to a contemporary individual of unknown credentials, annihilate the madhabs of the four independent jurists, and convince the masses to submit to the legal verdicts of their so-called mujtahid, they will have accomplished what they have set out to do (8).

How will the proponents of absolute free speech prevent other zealots like the aforementioned one from becoming an independent jurist (mujtahid) How will they impose their views on others depriving people of their freedom to choose? How can he who calls for absolute freedom deprive ordinary people of the right to decide for themselves which scholar from the golden age of Islam to depend on and imitate? Such prohibition or deprivation was not even seen during the dark ages!!! I must admit that I don’t have answer to the aforementioned question.


In summary, if you research the situation of the proponents of the anti-madhabism you will find them most ignoramuses blinded by the burning desire to be famous and to befriend the enemies of Muslims. This filthy call of theirs is a call from the people of mischief. The Muslim leaders or those responsible must work hard to find the source of this peril and stamp out this fire of evil. This despicable call is nothing other than a bridge to irreligion which we see dominant in countries afflicted with atheism and destined to misery. The [astute] believer does not get attacked from the same [lizard] hole twice. Wiser is he who learns from the mistakes of others. Allah speaks the truth and guides to the straight path.


(1) They are Said bin Al-Musayyab, Urwa bin Zubair, Al-Qaasim bin Muhammed bin Abi Bakr Al-Siddeeq, Abdullah bin Utba bin Masood, Khaarija bin Zayd bin Thaabit, Sulaiman bin Yasaar and Abu Salama bin Abdurrahman bin Awf. May Allah be pleased with them all.
(2) The recitation of Ibn Masoud is what was narrated by [the famous reciter] Asim by way of Zoor Bin Habeesh. The recitation of ‘Ali Bin Abi Talib (RA) was narrated also by Asim by way of Ibn Abd Al Rahman Abdullah Bin Habeeb Al Salaami.
(3) In reference to a hadith that Imaam Al-Tirmidhi and Al-Hakim have quoted on the authority of ‘Ali (RA) who said: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “I am the city of knowledge and ‘Ali is its gate”…(Taarikh Al-Khulafaa by Imaam Jalaal Al-Deen Al-Suyooti, page 170) [Tr.]
(4) Maraasilihi. Hadith Mursal (pl. meraasil): When a hadith is narrated by a follower (tabii) saying “the Messenger of God (pbuh) said” then this hadith is called mursal or loose hadith since the narrator omitted the link (a companion) between him and the Prophet (pbuh).
(5) His teachers include Muslim bin Khaalid who has gathered his knowledge from Ibn Jurayj who was a student of Ataa who was a student of Ibn Abbaas.
(6) Collections of hadith where the author compiled narrations without placing any restrictions on their authenticity.
(7) Plural of musnad. These are hadith books where the hadith are sorted by narrator.
(8) Coincidently, have you heard of the modern anti-madhabist who claimed that he sorted out most of the hadith which the Muslim nation had failed to do for over fourteen centuries? He has also corrected people’s creed. In addition, he took it upon himself to teach people the Prophet’s prayer (PBUH) as though Muslims who have been praying for 1400 years according to the four madhabs were performing Abu Jahl’s prayer! It seems that what Imaam Al-Kawthari foresaw is in fact happening in our time. May Allah protect us all. Ameen!


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